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Bid 'Em Up

It took a while for the critic's paddle to start waving happily, but Bid -- located in the bowels of Sotheby's -- has raised the bar and brought fine cuisine to the world of fine art.

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A Piece of the Auction: The dining room at Sotheby's new restaurant, Bid.  

In fine dining, as in life, certain eccentric concepts can take time to find an audience. The sandwich was one such concept; putting a gourmet restaurant in the basement of a legally challenged British auction house is another. Bid, the new establishment at the bottom of the sleekly monolithic Sotheby's building, has been open for several months now. I dimly recall that on my first visit there, many evenings ago, the fluorescent lobby had the faint, plasticated smell of a corporate hotel. The restaurant's menu -- pricey short ribs, a big, chalky version of cod and brandade, a dessert tart made from warm Stilton cheese -- seemed a little incongruous in this stiff, uptown setting. So did the overly beige, lounge-lizard décor (bead curtains, tufted leather banquettes), which reminded me of a lavish Admiral's Club lounge in some vaguely dated Continental airport.

The room at Bid still looks that way to me, although I'm curiously comforted by it now. Maybe that's because my wife has declared Bid to be her favorite new restaurant (she has a fondness for all things beige), or because several artsy downtown friends have been sneaking uptown to sip fancy martinis at the dimly lit bar and ogle the soon-to-be-auctioned art on the restaurant walls.

More likely, though, it's thanks to the work of executive chef Matt Seeber. Seeber is a former acolyte of Tom Colicchio (who's listed as a "consultant" on this project), and like his mentor, he cultivates a kind of rustic elegance in his cooking. In the beginning, his recipes seemed more rustic than elegant. Lately, though, Seeber has come into his own. On a recent visit to Bid, I began my meal with two nodules of creamy foie gras, folded in green cabbage with razor-thin wafers of black truffle. This elegantly satisfying dish (plucked from the $70 tasting menu) was served on a bed of sweet, vinegary flageolet beans and bacon, which you slurped down with a spoon. Then came a tender fillet of guinea hen, wrapped in a tube of crispy pancetta, with glazed winter vegetables (turnips, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts) piled on the side over a mound of tender confit. My wife ordered the black sea bass with a light rice-flake crust, served in a pool of broth with bok choy, tomatoes, and saffron. The smooth Asian flavors complemented the mildness of the fish, while the rice flakes gave the dish an exotic confectioner's crunch.

"I thought you didn't like this place," whispered my wife between enthusiastic little bites. I had to note sheepishly that the roasted cod wasn't as chalky as I'd remembered it, and it looked tidier, sitting atop a light brandade mixed with almonds, zucchini, and bits of lemon. Among the other seafood dishes, we liked the silvery appetizer of pickled sardines and the house lobster chowder, which is peach-colored and stocked with bluefoot mushrooms and squares of smoky bacon. My quail appetizer was perfectly tender, though cut in tiny mouse-size pieces, and our communal serving of potato gnocchi (as big as golf balls) was smothered in mushrooms and a deliciously rich, foie gras-infused broth. The short ribs (served with little planks of sirloin and a mix of truffle-flavored faro and tripe) were fine, though, like most things in a joint where the cheapest entrée costs $25, still overpriced.

Not that this seemed to bother the crowd at Bid, a genteel mix of auction-house patrons and well-heeled Sutton Place grandees with iridescent winter tans. They swilled luminous, expensive cocktails ($15 for my Isle of Skye Rusty Nail) and sipped an interesting selection of equally pricey wines. If you're on a budget, however, save up for the restaurant's superior desserts. Pastry chef Chika Tillman's version of bread pudding is a dense slab of faintly eggy brioche, served with a scoop of coconut sorbet. There's also a warm chocolate tart, encased in a light pastry crust that melts away when you prick it with your fork. Cheese nuts will enjoy the cheesecakelike fromage blanc island, although my favorite was the button-size apple tarte Tatin, served with apple-green shavings of granita and a pinkish peppercorn ice cream. I may have sampled this delicious dish on my first visit to Bid. But then again, maybe not. It was a long time ago, after all, and in fine dining, as in life, memory is a tricky, fragile thing.

Bid 1334 York Avenue, near 71st Street (212-988-7730).
Lunch, Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5:30 till 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m. Appetizers, $12 to $17; entrées, $25 to $32. All major credit cards.


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